Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers
Judges, mediators, and hearing officers apply the law to resolve disputes and facilitate negotiations between parties.
Quick Facts: Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers
2010 Median Pay $91,880 per year
$44.17 per hour
Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation See How to Become One
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2010 62,700
Job Outlook, 2010-20 7% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2010-20 4,600

What Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers Do

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers apply the law to court cases and oversee the legal process in courts. They also resolve administrative disputes and facilitate negotiations between opposing parties.

Work Environment

Most judges, mediators, and hearing officers are employed by local, state, and federal governments. Most work in courts. The majority work full time.

How to Become a Judge, Mediator, or Hearing Officer

Judges and hearing officers usually have law degrees and work experience as lawyers. Some judges are elected. Training requirements for mediators varies.

Pay

The median annual wage of judges, mediators, and hearing officers was $91,880 in May 2010.

Job Outlook

Employment of judges, mediators, and hearing officers is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations. Most job openings will arise when judges, mediators, and hearing officers leave their jobs or retire.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of judges, mediators, and hearing officers with similar occupations.

Contacts for More Information

Learn more about judges, mediators, and hearing officers by contacting these additional resources.

What Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers Do

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers
Judges preside over hearings and listen to the arguments of opposing parties.

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers apply the law to court cases and oversee the legal process in courts. They also resolve administrative disputes and facilitate negotiations between opposing parties.

Duties

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers typically do the following:

  • Research legal issues
  • Read and evaluate information from documents such as motions, claim applications, or records
  • Preside over hearings and listen to or read arguments by opposing parties
  • Determine if the information presented supports the charge, claim, or dispute
  • Decide if the procedure is being conducted according to the rules and law
  • Analyze, research, and apply laws, regulations, or precedents to reach judgments, conclusions, or agreements
  • Write opinions, decisions, or instructions regarding the case, claim, or dispute

Judges commonly preside over trials or hearings of cases regarding nearly every aspect of society, from individual traffic offenses to issues concerning the rights of large corporations. Judges listen to arguments and determine whether the evidence presented deserves a trial. In criminal cases, judges may decide that people charged with crimes should be held in jail until the trial, or they may set conditions for their release. They also approve search and arrest warrants.

Judges interpret the law to determine how a trial will proceed, which is particularly important when unusual circumstances arise for which standard procedures have not been established. They ensure that hearings and trials are conducted fairly and the legal rights of all involved parties are protected.

In trials in which juries are selected to decide the case, judges instruct jurors on applicable laws and direct them to consider the facts from the evidence. For other trials, judges decide the case. A judge who determines guilt in criminal cases may impose a sentence or penalty on the guilty party. In civil cases, the judge may award relief, such as compensation for damages, to the parties who win the lawsuit.

Some judges, such as appellate court judges, review decisions and records made by lower courts, and make decisions based on lawyers’ written and oral arguments.

Judges use various forms of technology, such as electronic databases and software, to manage cases and prepare for trials. In some cases, a judge also may manage the court’s administrative and clerical staff.

The following are examples of types of judges, mediators, and hearing officers:

Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates preside over trials or hearings. They typically work in local, state, and federal courts.

In local and state court systems, they have a variety of titles, such as municipal court judge, county court judge, magistrate, and justice of the peace. Traffic violations, misdemeanors, small-claims cases, and pretrial hearings make up the bulk of these judges' work.

In federal and state court systems, general trial court judges have authority over any case in their system. Appellate court judges rule on a small number of cases by reviewing decisions of the lower courts and lawyers’ written and oral arguments.

Hearing officers, also known as administrative law judges or adjudicators, usually work for government agencies. They decide many issues, such as if a person is eligible for workers' compensation benefits, or if employment discrimination occurred.

Arbitrators, mediators, or conciliators help opposing parties settle disputes outside of court. They hold private, confidential hearings, which are less formal than a court trial.  

Arbitrators are usually attorneys or business people with expertise in a particular field. They hear and decide disputes between opposing parties as an impartial third party. When arbitration is required, if one side is not happy with the decision, they can still take the matter to court. Arbitration may also be voluntary, in which the opposing sides agree that whatever the arbitrator decides will be a final, binding decision.

Mediators are neutral parties who help people resolve their disputes. Mediators suggest solutions, but they do not make binding decisions. If the opposing sides cannot reach a settlement with the mediator's help, they are free to pursue other options.

Conciliators are similar to mediators. Their role is to help guide opposing sides to a settlement. The opposing sides must decide in advance if they will be bound by the conciliator's recommendations.

Work Environment

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers
Judges do some of their work in courtrooms.

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers held about 62,700 jobs in 2010, and most were employed by local, state, and federal governments. Some arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators work for state and local governments. The following industries employed the most judges, mediators, and hearing officers in 2010:

State government, excluding education and hospitals36%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals28
Federal government, excluding postal service7
Professional, scientific, and technical services3

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers do most of their work in offices and courtrooms. Their jobs can be demanding because they must sit in the same position in the court or hearing room for long periods and give undivided attention to the process.

Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators usually work in private offices or meeting rooms. They may travel to a neutral site chosen for negotiations.

Work Schedules

Most judges, mediators, and hearing officers work full time, but many often work longer hours to prepare for hearings. Some judges work part time and divide their time between their judicial responsibilities and other careers.

How to Become a Judge, Mediator, or Hearing Officer

Judges, mediators, and hearing officers
Judges must be able to listen well to the facts provided by opposing parties.

Judges, magistrate judges, magistrates, and administrative law judges are often required to have a law degree and work experience as a lawyer. For more information on how to become a lawyer, see the profile on lawyers.  

Additionally, most judges and magistrates must be either appointed or elected into judge positions, a procedure that often takes political support. Many local and state judges are appointed to serve fixed renewable terms, ranging from 4 years to 14 years. A few judges, such as appellate court judges, are appointed for life. Judicial nominating commissions screen candidates for judgeships in many states and for some federal judgeships. Some local and state judges are elected to a specific term, commonly 4 years, in an election process.

Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators learn their skills through education, training, or work experience.

Education

For most jobs as a local, state, or federal judge, a law degree is necessary. Getting a law degree usually takes 7 years of full-time study after high school—4 years of undergraduate study, followed by 3 years of law school. Law degree programs include courses such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, civil procedure, and legal writing. 

In some states, administrative law judges and other hearing officials do not have to be lawyers. However, federal administrative law judges must be lawyers and must pass a competitive exam from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

For mediators, arbitrators, and conciliators, education is one pathway. They can take a certificate program in conflict resolution at a college or university, a 2-year master's degree in dispute resolution or conflict management, or get a doctoral degree through a 4-year or 5-year program. Many mediators have a law degree, but master's degrees in public policy, law, and related fields also provide good backgrounds.

Work Experience

Most judges, mediators, and hearing officers get their skills through years of experience as practicing lawyers. About 40 states allow those who are not lawyers to hold limited-jurisdiction judgeships, but opportunities are better for those with law experience.

Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators are usually lawyers or business professionals with expertise in a particular field, such as construction or insurance. They need to have knowledge of that industry and be able to relate well to people from different cultures and backgrounds.

Training

All states have some type of orientation for newly elected or appointed judges. The Federal Judicial Center, American Bar Association, National Judicial College, and National Center for State Courts provide judicial education and training for judges and other judicial branch personnel.

More than half of all states, as well as Puerto Rico, require judges to take continuing education courses while serving on the bench. General and continuing education courses usually last from a few days to 3 weeks.

Training for arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators is available through independent mediation programs, national and local mediation membership organizations, and postsecondary schools. To practice in state-funded or court-funded mediation programs, mediators must usually meet specific training or experience standards, which vary by state and court. Most mediators complete a 40-hour basic course and a 20-hour advanced training course. Some people get training by volunteering at a community mediation center or by co-mediating cases with an experienced mediator.

Licenses

Judges who are lawyers already hold a license.

Federal administrative law judges must be licensed to practice law.

For mediators, arbitrators, and conciliators, no national license exists. State requirements vary widely. Some states require arbitrators to be experienced lawyers.

Advancement

Advancement for some judicial workers means moving to courts with a broader jurisdiction. Advancement for various hearing officers includes taking on more complex cases, starting businesses, practicing law, or becoming district court judges.

Important Personal Qualities

Critical-reasoning skills. Judges, mediators, and hearing officers must apply rules of law. They cannot let their own personal assumptions interfere with the proceedings. For example, they must base their decisions on specific meanings of the law when evaluating and deciding whether a person is a threat to others and must be sent to jail.

Decision-making skills. Judges, mediators, and hearing officers must be able to weigh the facts, apply the law or rules, and make a decision relatively quickly.

Listening skills. Judges, mediators, and hearing officers must pay close attention to what is being said in order to evaluate information.

Reading comprehension. Judges, mediators, and hearing officers must be able to evaluate and distinguish the important facts from large amounts of complex information.  

Writing skills. Judges, mediators, and hearing officers write recommendations or decisions on appeals or disputes. They must be able to write their decisions clearly so that all sides understand the decision.

Remuneration

Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers

Median annual wages, May 2010

Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates

$119,270

Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers

$91,880

Administrative Law Judges, Adjudicators, and Hearing Officers

$85,500

Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators

$55,800

Total, All Occupations

$33,840

 

The median annual wage of judges, mediators and hearing officers was $91,880 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,400, and the top 10 percent earned more than $164,510.

The median wages for judges, mediators, and hearing officer occupations in May 2010 were the following:

  • $119,270 for judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates
  • $85,500 for administrative law judges, adjudicators, and hearing officers
  • $55,800 for arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, in the federal court system, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court earned $223,500, and the Associate Justices averaged $213,900. Federal circuit judges earned an average of $184,500 a year. District court judges and judges in the Court of Federal Claims and the Court of International Trade had average salaries of $174,000.

Although federal judges’ pay has not changed since January 2009, the average pay for state judges has increased.

According to a 2011 survey by the National Center for State Courts, the median annual wage of chief justices of the states' highest courts was $152,500 and ranged from $115,160 to $228,856. The median annual wage of associate justices of the states' highest courts was $146,917 and ranged from $112,530 to $218,237. The median annual wage of state intermediate appellate court judges was $140,732 and ranged from $105,050 to $204,599. The median annual wage of state judges of general jurisdiction trial courts was $132,500 and ranged from $104,170 to $178,835.

Most judges, mediators, and hearing officers work full time, and many often work longer hours to prepare for case hearings. Some judges work part time and divide their time between their judicial responsibilities and other careers.

Job Outlook

Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers

Percent change in employment, projected 2010-20

Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators

15%

Total, All Occupations

14%

Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates

9%

Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers

7%

Administrative Law Judges, Adjudicators, and Hearing Officers

0%

 

Employment of judges, mediators, and hearing officers is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations. The number of federal and state judgeships is expected to experience little to no change because nearly every new position for a judge must be authorized and approved by legislature.

Budgetary constraints in federal, state, and local governments are expected to limit the employment growth of judges, magistrates, and administrative law judges, despite the continued need for these workers to settle disputes.

Arbitration and other alternatives to litigation are often faster and less expensive than trials. However, employment growth of arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators is expected to be moderate. This is primarily because conflicting parties often opt for court proceedings or try to resolve the problem on their own without a judge or mediator.

Job Prospects

The prestige associated with becoming a judge will ensure continued competition for these positions. Most job openings will arise as a result of judges, mediators, and hearing officers leaving the occupations because of retirement, teaching, or expiration of elected term.

As with judges, turnover is low for arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators, so opportunities may be limited. Those who specialize in one or more areas of arbitration, mediation, or conciliation should have the best job opportunities.

Employment projections data for judges, mediators, and hearing officers, 2010-20
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2010 Projected Employment, 2020 Change, 2010-20
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers

62,700 67,300 7 4,600

Administrative Law Judges, Adjudicators, and Hearing Officers

23-1021 19,200 19,200 0 0

Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators

23-1022 9,400 10,900 15 1,500

Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates

23-1023 34,000 37,200 9 3,100

Related Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of judges, mediators, and hearing officers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2010 MEDIAN PAY Help
Lawyers

Lawyers

Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, or government agencies on legal issues or disputes.

Doctoral or professional degree $112,760
Paralegals and legal assistants

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Paralegals and legal assistants do a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.

Associate’s degree $46,680
Private detectives and investigators

Private Detectives and Investigators

Private detectives and investigators find facts and analyze information about legal, financial, and personal matters. They offer many services, including verifying people's backgrounds, tracing missing persons, investigating computer crimes, and protecting celebrities.   

Some college, no degree $42,870

Contacts for More Information

For more information about state courts and judgeships, visit

National Center for State Courts

For more information about federal judges, visit

Administrative Office of the United States Courts

For more information about arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators, visit

American Arbitration Association

For more information about judicial education and training for judges and other judicial branch personnel, visit

Federal Judicial Center

American Bar Association

National Judicial College

Source:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Judges, Mediators, and Hearing Officers,
on the Internet at www.bls.gov/ooh/

Take a Personality Test Online

 

Leadership Tests, Myers-BriggsType Test, Strong Career Test